Cowboys & Aliens, by Joan D. Vinge

Article published on September 27, 2011.

Well dang me pardner if I’m not hornswoggled by this boonie talk. I’ve spent my whole, internet-free holiday worrying about what constitutes a toad-strangler and how a storm can be one. What is it about the crashing, deafening, thunderous storm with its tornado-like winds, blinding lightning and torrential freezing rain that makes it capable of strangling toads? Turns out (Wiktionary to the rescue) that a toad-strangler is a heavy downpour. I’m none the wiser about what that has to do with dead toads, but what a waste of a good worry.

Admission. I saw the film first (Craig and Ford, unmissable) and then read the book. My thoughts about the book are therefore influenced strongly by the imagery and action in the film. It’s not easy to separate the two. That won’t stop me trying.

The book is a bit like an embellished pirate video. It conveys the gist of the film, covering every scene, adding bits and pieces of background and motivation and explaining some of what the characters were thinking or feeling as the piece moved on. It doesn’t at all capture the vitality and humour in the film, and attributing feelings and motivations to the strong silent types rather misses the point of their being strong, silent types. I suppose, grudgingly, that as an aide-mémoire it does sort-of work, though I suspect that if I hadn’t already seen the film I’d have imagined very different settings for all the action and would have no idea of what the gold extraction scenes were all about.

I liked the western elements of the book. I thought the science fiction poorly done, evoking nothing of the technology or alien elements in the film. I would have guessed it was written by a western author who was at a bit of a loss when it came to Science Fiction. How wrong can I get!

Recommendation. The film needs no aide-mémoire. If you want to remember it, go and see it again 🙂 Do not buy the book. If you fail in this, don’t read it. Wait for the next toad-strangler and put it out in it. With luck it’ll vanish without trace.




Watch the trailer for Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles


Moondance of Stonewylde, by Kit Berry

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